Following a busy first week, the initial wave of the NFL’s 2020 free agency period is starting to slow down a bit. This, in turn, gives us a chance to take a look back at what happened from the New England Patriots’ perspective. We already recapped the action earlier today, and will now take a look at the impact the moves will have on the team and the players that appear to be the winners and losers this early in the process.
Winner: QB Jarrett Stidham
With Tom Brady now a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the road appears to be clear for Jarrett Stidham to take over as the Patriots’ starting quarterback. Stidham attempted only four passes during his 2019 rookie season — one of which a pick-six — but he showed considerable promise in training camp and reportedly also impressed the team behind the scenes throughout the year. The Patriots are apparently feeling good about the 23-year-old, and he will get every chance to prove that he can successfully fill Brady’s shoes in 2020 and beyond.
Loser: WR Julian Edelman
The MVP of Super Bowl 53 is again projected to play a sizable role within New England’s offense in 2020, even without Brady under center. That being said, Edelman’s connection with the future Hall of Fame passer was part of the reason why he was such a productive player over the last few years: he was the quarterback’s safety net in countless situations, and a player who consistently knew where he needed to be in order to get the football. With Brady no longer part of the equation, Edelman will have to develop a new connection with whoever takes his spot.
Winner: K Stephen Gostkowski
Due to his disappointing 2019 campaign — Gostkowski missed five of his first 23 kicks of the regular season before being placed him on injured reserve because of a hip injury — in combination with a $4.89 million salary cap hit in 2020, the veteran was seen as a potential cap casualty heading into free agency. The Patriots opted not to move on from their long-time place kicker, however, and did not even bring competition in via the open market. From Gostkowski’s perspective, free agency therefore went well so far.
Winner: WR Mohamed Sanu
Mohamed Sanu made the transition from Atlanta to New England look easy after the Patriots acquired him via trade ahead of last year’s deadline, but an ankle injury suffered in mid-November slowed him down significantly down the stretch. As a result of his disappointing first half-year with the club and a fully non-guaranteed $6.5 million cap hit, Sanu was also seen as a potential player to be let go in favor of additional cap space. However, New England did neither part ways with the veteran nor bring in any of the high-priced free agent wide receivers to compete against him this summer.
Loser: New England’s pass rush
The Patriots’ defense led the NFL in scoring last season not just because of the outstanding play of its secondary, but also due to the fact that the linebacker corps was one of the most productive in all of football. The team will have to move on without two of its top three members from a year ago, however, as both Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins Sr. left in free agency. Their departures might particularly hurt New England’s pass rush: Van Noy and Collins ranked first and third on the team in quarterback pressures with 51.5 and 30, respectively.
Winner: OT Isaiah Wynn
While a toe injury forced him to miss eight games on temporary injured reserve, Isaiah Wynn looked promising in his first year as the Patriots’ starting left tackle. His tremendous technique and impressive athleticism both contributed to this, but so did the player lining up on his inside shoulder: Joe Thuney was one of the best guards in football in 2019, and New England keeping him via the franchise tag should only help Wynn’s development.
Loser: New England’s offensive line depth
While Thuney remains in the fold, the depth behind him and the other starters along New England’s offensive line remains a bit suspect: on the outside, second-year man Yodny Cajuste is currently projected to be the number three tackle after missing all of 2019 due to a quad injury; on the interior, Hjalte Froholdt — another player who is entering Year Two after missing all of last year due to injury — and Jermaine Eluemunor are currently the top two backups. The three all have upside, but they lack the experience of a player like free agency departure Ted Karras.
Winners: TE Matt LaCosse and TE Ryan Izzo
No position on the Patriots’ roster struggled as much in 2019 as the tight end spot: with Rob Gronkowski retired, New England failed to find a proper replacement and got only limited production out of the group in both the passing and the running game. Despite that, however, the team did not invest in a tight end so far in free agency. Big-name options such as Austin Hooper and Eric Ebron signed elsewhere, while the Patriots shied away from spending their limited resources on other available options. They will add more depth and talent sooner or later, but for now it seems as if the draft will be the way to go — and that both Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo remain in a somewhat comfortable position.
Winners: LB Chase Winovich and LB Ja’Whaun Bentley
With Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts signing in Miami, and Jamie Collins moving to Detroit, the Patriots might turn to youngsters Chase Winovich and Ja’Whaun Bentley to help fill their roles. Yes, Brandon Copeland was signed to offer additional depth at the linebacker position — he is best suited to play Collins’ former hybrid role — but it would still not be a surprise if New England opted to give Winovich and Bentley bigger playing-time shares in 2020 to help replace the departed veterans. Winovich is projected to take over Van Noy’s role as an outside/edge linebacker, while Bentley could help fill both Roberts’ spot and take over Collins’ off-the-ball responsibilities.
Loser: WR Gunner Olszewski
Gunner Olszewski made the Patriots’ roster last season not due to his offensive contributions but rather his play on special teams: the undrafted rookie served as New England’s primary punt returner before being placed on season-ending injured reserve in November due to ankle and hamstring issues. With the team bringing Damiere Byrd on board in free agency, however, the 23-year-old will face some experienced competition for the role in 2020.